A DoorDash delivery worker in New York City.
Ribeiro/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
“Bots,” or apps that make it easier to claim orders, are proliferating on delivery gig apps.Some help workers pick up orders or shifts; others claim to provide hidden information about orders.Companies like Instacart and Walmart Spark say using bots violates their policies for contractors.
Last summer, a driver for DoorDash in Indiana heard from a fellow gig worker about an app that supposedly could show him a valuable detail about each order on the platform.
“It would tell me if I’m getting a tip or not,” the driver told Business Insider. “DoorDash would never do that.”
Drivers only see base pay when they are offered an order from DoorDash, which can run as low as $2. Being able to accept just orders with high tips — and increase his overall earnings — convinced the gig worker to pay to download the app to his phone.
Frustrated by falling pay and intensifying competition on delivery apps, some gig workers are turning to “bots” — apps and other programs that claim to help them optimize their earnings. While using bots violates the delivery apps’ policies, some drivers say they’re worth it, or even necessary, to make enough money as a gig worker.
Some bots are relatively simple. “Batch grabbers,” for instance, claim orders on a delivery app faster than any human can tap them on a phone screen. Often, they also allow users to accept orders with certain characteristics, such as high pay or short driving time.
Others, like the one that the Indiana DoorDash driver used, promise users otherwise unseen information about the orders, such as how much a customer tipped. This app, called Para, was built by a former Uber employee and launched for download in 2021, according to the New York Times.
Para’s website says that it can reveal “hidden trip details” and help users capture higher-paying orders on apps like Uber, Grubhub, and Lyft.
For a few days, Para worked well, the DoorDash driver said. After that, the app stopped displaying tips and asked him to log in several times over the course of a day. Eventually, the driver stopped using it because of the problems.
Bots can “negatively impact other drivers”
Using a bot violates the delivery apps’ terms for workers, the companies told Business Insider.
It “can negatively impact other drivers,” a Walmart spokesperson told BI. “We are very proactive in identifying and preventing this type of activity, and we investigate all reports of specific driver bot use. If substantiated, the driver’s account is deactivated.” The spokesperson also pointed to steps it has taken to address bots.
“We have several teams dedicated to preventing any illicit or fraudulent third-party apps from violating our terms of service,” an Instacart spokesperson said, which have successfully blocked access to these sorts of services. “Any shopper found to be engaging in fraudulent activity or otherwise violating their contract will be removed from our platform.”
DoorDash’s policy “explicitly prohibits Dashers from sharing their account information with anyone — including third parties,” a DoorDash spokesperson said. “Anyone found violating our rules faces removal.”
Uber and Para did not respond to requests for comment from BI.
Other bots than Para’s exist, including for specific apps. One called “Spark Ninjas” supposedly captures orders automatically on Walmart’s Spark delivery platform. Subscribers can tell the bot which orders to take based on the expected payout, according to its website. Spark Ninja didn’t respond to messages or a call from BI.
Bots are undermining the true gig economy — and can rip off workers
Bots aren’t unique to gig work apps, with similar codes being used to grab top-selling products on apps and websites for years. For instance, sneaker resellers use bots to snap up pairs of shoes from limited-edition drops by brands like Nike.
Nike has responded by improving its technology and coming up with new ways to make sure customers themselves have a fair shot at getting the sneakers.
Bots are also used to create fake accounts at banks in order to move money illicitly, Sharell Barshishat, a senior threat analyst at security and anti-fraud consultancy BioCatch, told BI. The use of bots on apps like Spark appears to be an extension of technology used against banks and retailers, he said.
“Now, instead of being this true gig economy that’s kind of spreading out this opportunity for everybody, you’re more so giving it to these few people who have access to these tools,” Barshishat said.
Bots appear to be just one way that some gig workers are improving their earnings. Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites have had postings that offer to sell driver accounts to prospective gig workers for hundreds of dollars, BI reported last year.
Some workers for Walmart’s Spark delivery program appear to be using multiple accounts to pick up, shop, and deliver orders under names other than their own, BI reported.
But there’s also a risk of workers getting ripped off. One Texas-based driver for Spark said he traded Telegram messages with someone who claimed to sell bots last month. “The bot literally grabs all the high-paying orders in your region,” the person on the other end told him, according to screenshots of the conversation shared with BI.
But days after the driver sent the person behind the account about $1,000 worth of bitcoin, he still had no bot. “I think he’s just a scammer,” the driver said.
Do you work for a gig delivery app like Instacart, DoorDash, or Walmart Spark and have a story idea to share? Reach out to this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org